My End of Year Donations

I haven’t figured out my New Year’s resolutions yet, but I have decided on some charities to donate to.  I commend them to my friends, family and colleagues.  Giving makes you feel good.

I gave $500 to Rep. Bill Pascrell, tonight, at pascrellforcongress.com, even though he’s not my Congressman anymore (starting 2012).  That’s charity?  Well, no, but the Star Ledger editorial chastising Rep. Rothman for picking a primary fight with Bill was very persuasive this morning:  http://blog.nj.com/njv_editorial_page/2011/12/us_rep_steve_rothmans_challeng.html  Anyway, I’m a fan of Bill, and though Essex County has now been wrongly deprived of his services, courtesy Dean John Farmer, it’s the least I can do to thank Bill for the more than $650,000 he just scored in a grant toward South Orange’s purchase of a new fire truck, and his tireless service to my community.

As a member of The Florida Bar, I have to donate 20 hours in pro bono legal services annually to the poor or donate $350.  (Why doesn’t New Jersey require that?).  I’ve taken on two pro bono cases this year, but my husband and I will donate to the Public Interest Law Foundation at Columbia Law School anyway (http://www.columbia.edu/cu/pilf/)– you can choose a PILF near you.

I gave to the Greater Newark Holiday Fund, in memory of my father, Leonard G. Bauer, who was a native Newarker, and graduate of Barringer H.S.  My dad grew up during the Depression.  But his mom always had a job and he was very industrious, so even though poverty made a lasting impression, in a way they were lucky. The Fund helps people who are really destitute, or in dire situations.  And it bring toys and clothes to kids.  The case recitations in the Star Ledger every morning (thru Jan. 14) make it easy to realize how lucky the rest of us are.  (holidayfund.org)

I also gave to my other fave Newark charity, Greater Newark Conservancy.  If you don’t know Robin Dougherty’s work with Newark kids, teaching them about their environment, growing food, sustainability, etc., you’ve got to visit citybloom.org.

On the recommendation of Steven Hickson, I gave again this year to Pathways/Cancer Support which is part of The Connection for Women and Families in Summit, NJ, a community center caring for those with breast cancer and their families (theconnectiononline.org). Also gave to the National Kidney Foundation. And I gave to my “church”– the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker Meeting in Montclair) where I am a member, and to the First Baptist Church of South Orange, which is trying to build a new larger church to accommodate its growth.

I gave to the South Orange Rescue Squad, http://www.southorangerescuesquad.org, as I do every year.  I can’t say enough about what an outstanding job they do in times of crisis, and what great folks they are.   Please donate generously to the SO or your own rescue squad.  The volunteers exemplify the highest level of community service and commitment, giving up their nights or weekends to serve you.

I gave to my daughter’s schools, Brooklyn Friends School (HS) and before that, Princeton Friends School (MS).  To my son’s school, Sarah Lawrence College, we paid our last check for tuition, room and board!  Enough said there:  He graduates May 19, 2011.  Yea!!!  I feel strongly about supporting one’s schools, past or present, so I also gave to my undergrad college (Syracuse) and law school (Rutgers) and my husband donated to his alma mater (Princeton), and we gave to the local South Orange/Maplewood ACHIEVE Foundation (achievefoundation.org).

I gave to one of my non-profit clients, the Pennsylvania RR Harsimus Stem Embankment Coalition (embankment.org).

Of course, I gave to the organizations on whose boards I serve. Their efficiency, vision and successful and strategic work commends itself: Tri-State Transportation Campaign (tstc.org) and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network (delawareriverkeeper.org).  If you don’t want fracking for natural gas to ruin your water supply, or toxic waste dredged out of the Delaware, and do wannt trout production streams and floodplains protected, you’ll donate to Riverkeeper too.  Or find and donate to your own local riverkeeper!

I gave to NJ Citizen Action (njcitizenaction.org).  If you donate a dollar, it will be matched. That’s leverage.  I believe in Citizen Action’s goals and have always admired this non-profit– helping people get fair mortgages so they can buy homes, making banks invest rather than “redline” poor communities, empowering people so they can enjoy economic security, fair and clean elections, and a host of other good programs.

There are a few others, but those are the primary ones.  Please donate to your favorite cause.

 

December 31, 2011 at 10:35 PM Leave a comment

Crossing the Hudson River

Some deeper questions and observations got lost in the news coverage, public opinion polls and liberal laments over Gov. Christie’s cancellation of the “Access to the Region’s Core” (ARC) rail alternative for building more capacity across the Hudson River.

ARC was a $8.7B rail tunnel and station project devised by NJTransit and funded mostly by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PA) and the State.

My first observation is that New Jersey has a planning and political vacuum where the regional transportation network is concerned.  New Jersey has not been part of a formal regional transportation planning entity since 1982, when the metropolitan planning organization (MPO, in federal transportation law parlance), the Tri-State Regional Planning Commission, collapsed.  Of the three MPOs in New Jersey, one focuses only on Northern NJ, one on the Philadelphia area and one on Atlantic City and its surrounds.

An MPO’s role is planning, and dividing up the federal transportation funds pie according to those plans.  There’s actually a federal law that mandates that transportation projects, especially very large, expensive ones, must be planned in advance, studied as to impacts, vetted in all kinds of venues, and then funded with the consent of all concerned.  The process was put in place by Congress largely to avoid what happened to the ARC project.

The demise of ARC—and the manner in which it was terminated—suggest that it’s time to think seriously about re-creating a regional MPO, with New York, where the politics may be sorted out and the projects moved forward.

An MPO’s capital plan shapes the region’s transportation investments and reflects consensus on the funding and schedule for projects—highway, rail, bicycle, etc.—amongst the elected officials from the region, transportation planners and other stakeholders (businesses, consumers and commuters).  Right now, the PA is functioning as a bit of a regional MPO, divvying up funds from the PA’s take of airport fees, and bridge and tunnel tolls, for capital projects in each state.  The PA’s capital projects are supposed to be for airport- and seaport-related transportation and infrstructure.  Not for fixing NJ’s general transportation budget woes.

Transit advocates and transportation planners were left scratching their head over ARC’s outright cancellation, rather than reformation— after all, New Jersey is not a cul de sac. The economy of much of northern New Jersey, and especially the value of real estate, and hence property tax base, depends in part on salaries and bonuses commuters bring home from their New York jobs.  Northern New Jersey is now served by an ancient, decrepit rail tunnel to and from New York carrying two tracks; train capacity is maxed out at peak period.

New Jersey commuters need more rail capacity to Manhattan. There is no dispute about that fact.  The question of when it should be built, where it should be routed and terminate, etc. should now be answered in a regional planning context. Clearly, funding is going to have to be regional as well.

Mayor Bloomberg has a wider perspective, maybe a bigger agenda than Gov. Christie.  He showed it by proposing the # 7 subway line extension almost immediately after ARC’s cancellation.  It’s an intriguing idea, and bears study.  New York City has now set aside a bit of money to look at it.

The Dec. 21, 2010 Quinnipiac College poll shows that while New Jerseyans support the # 7 line extension idea by a wide margin, they aren’t willing to pay for it.  Actually, they were, until they were told it would cost $1B or more.  Then they said no.

The # 7 subway line runs from Queens to Manhattan.  Extension of it to an area west of Penn Station is planned.  Further extension to New Jersey would serve one of the important original goals of the study on how to increase rail capacity across the Hudson River, namely, providing New Jersey commuters with train access from New Jersey to the east side of Manhattan, where there may be more and better paying jobs, than the area around Penn Station, where ARC eventually was forced to terminate.  (Critics derided ARC as the rail tunnel to Macy’s basement, after plans to connect it to both Grand Central Station on the east side, and to Penn Station, were dropped.)  If the # 7 line extension idea gets approval (a process that can take anywhere from 10 years to 100 years), the # 7 subway would link to Secaucus Junction, in the Meadowlands, and save the expense of building a new stand-alone station there or at Penn Station.

The whole cross-Hudson rail capacity issue may now be re-studied, based on new Census, work locations, job growth, commute travel patterns and other data.  What a good time to re-create a regional MPO, which includes both New York and New Jersey!

The next question raised is a fundamentally legal one: how exactly did ARC pass away? How  did one “Jersey guy” governor take just two months to kill a project that he supported during his campaign, which served an acknowledged need, and which was planned since 1995 by all the agencies and elected officials attending New Jersey’s MPO—the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, and funded in large part by both the feds—with New York’s knowledge, and through the Port Authority—with New York’s fiscal participation and approval.

It happened by fiat.  The governor simply canceled the project.  Is cancellation of an approved project in an approved capital program by fiat lawful? The quick answer is that it was a project of  NJTransit, an agency that is within the governor’s Cabinet. The director serves at the governor’s pleasure; the governor appoints its board of directors.  It is not an independent authority.  Gov. Christies was probably told that MPO capital project plans are not enforceable; if everyone agrees, the plans are carried out, but if not, they have no teeth.  So yes, he can cancel his agency’s project.

Capital project spending is innately political, and all politics is local. Only politicians that have the desire to execute plans will do so.  Bad projects should always be able to be killed.  That doesn’t mean the MPO model should be junked, or plans kept toothless.  Like democracy, it’s an imperfect model.

We need a regional planning MPO that has the buy in of the three governors (or at least two) and the Port Authority and any other authorities that are independent or quasi-independent of gubernatorial control.  The resultant approved plans should be strengthened.  A well-planned, multi-modal, efficient transportation system is going to help us compete in the global marketplace.

Whether ARC was part of that well-planned, efficient transportation network is now moot.  The lesson to be learned is that ARC was starting to face cost overruns; NJTransit apparently had not planned how to control them, auditors for the FTA found.  In fact, NJTransit had no project management plan, no financial plan and no master schedule at the time the feds signed off on NJTransit’s spending the first $1.35B in construction.  We should put clear cost controls and appropriate planning measures into the NJ Transportation Trust Fund re-authorization law, which is about to be enacted by the Legislature. In the first instance, New Jersey should not have allowed itself to get into this mess.  The Federal Transit Administration may take it out on us for a long time.  (The feds are suing New Jersey to obtain its $217M back for the canceled ARC project.)

As to the vacuum, is there even a forum that can handle the next alternatives study, and answer the many questions raised by ARC, its prior alternatives and the # 7 line proposal?

Finally, revenue-raising for infrastructure and transportation projects will have to be faced by the NJ Legislature some day.  Right now, and for the last two decades, it’s been a “third rail” the Legislature won’t touch.  In fact, the Democrats are now trying to roll back the toll increases they approved a couple years ago.

The stakes are higher now than ever before.  “Earmarks” traditionally funded a lot of important transportation projects in New Jersey.  We’re also losing other methods New Jersey had of leveling the playing field in terms of money and projects, such as a strong Congressional delegation, seats an on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and so forth.  New Jersey’s taxpayers, because of its affluence, sends much more money to Washington, D.C. than it gets back, in any other area than transportation.  Transportation is our fourth largest industry.  We need a good regional transportation network, in a state of good repair.

Mayors, state representatives, commuters, taxpayers and planners– everybody, really– are going to have to step up to the plate and make their voices heard on transportation issues and projects.

February 6, 2011 at 4:05 PM Leave a comment

A Transportation Lawyer Looks at Dr. Rev. King, Jr.

Embedded within in our federal Constitution is the concept of a “right to travel,” for one is not truly free and independent from tyranny unless one can leave, move about, or choose to stay put.  The right exists against both public and private restrictions.  Not surprisingly, transportation is often the focus of, and means to, greater societal change.

Martin Luther King’s rise to the national stage of the civil rights movement came about after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the middle of the bus on the evening of Dec. 1, 1955.   She was ordered by the driver to take a seat at the back of the bus, when white riders boarded and needed seats.  (The law in effect at the time divided the bus down the middle, with whites in front and blacks in the back.  However, the line moved back if more whites boarded, and more seats were needed.)  By refusing to give up her initial seat in the middle, Mrs. Parks violated the segregation laws governing the City of Montgomery’s bus system at that time.

She was convicted of the offense a few days later, however, the lawyers advising the NAACP, including Thurgood Marshall, felt that the state court process would mire an appeal.  Her arrest had already ignited local outrage.  At the same time, Montgomery’s African-American community came together under Dr. King’s leadership and that of other local clergy, including Rev. E. D. Nixon, who headed the local NAACP chapter, to form the Montgomery Improvement Association.  This occurred at a mass protest held at the Holt Street Baptist Church on Dec. 5, 1955.  Dr. King was a young minister in the City at that time, and Rev. Nixon felt that a fresh voice was needed to deal with the City fathers.

The African-Americans’ protest group had a list of demands for the transportation system—that the bus system (which was privately owned and operated) should hire black drivers, that seating should be on first come, first serve basis, and that drivers treat all customers courteously.

Till the group saw progress on these demands, it and its supporters agreed to boycott the City’s bus system.  The boycott lased a year.  Riders found alternative means of transportation—walking, carpooling, taking cabs, bicycling and even using mules to get to their jobs— anything but taking the bus.  The sidewalks were crowded with pedestrians and cyclists.  Meanwhile, the protesters filed a federal court lawsuit against the mayor, under 42 U.S.C. 1981 and 1983, the civil rights laws, charging that the segregated system was unconstitutional.

The boycott crippled Montgomery’s bus system, which could not exist on white riders’ fares alone.  The City responded with its own version of economic protectionism to get them back on the bus. The City threatened to fine black cab drivers who charged just 10¢ to passengers, the same as the bus fare (instead of the usual 45¢).  The City arrested blacks for “hindering” a bus.  The City urged insurance companies to drop insurance of the owners of cars used as carpools, and got an injunction against the carpools’ operation.  Lloyds of London re-insured them.  The City even threatened an antitrust-type lawsuit against the organizers of the “illegal” boycott.  Dr. King was arrested, and his house fire-bombed.

On June 4, 1956, the federal district court ruled that Montgomery’s enforcement of the state’s segregation law pursuant to its Public Service Commission rules for buses was unconstitutional, in Browder v Gayle, 142 F. Supp. 707 (1956).  The ruling was affirmed, and later, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the civil rights ruling to stand.  Dr. King, Rev. Nixon, the NAACP and the supporters of the boycott got more than they requested— full integration of the city’s buses.  Dr. King’s speech to 2,500 supporters at the church on the evening of December 20, 1956 may be read at http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/documentsentry/statement_on_ending_the_bus_boycott/

The next day, at 6 am, Dr. King and others peacefully boarded an integrated bus, and the boycott was ended. The Montgomery Advertiser reported: “The calm but cautious acceptance of this significant change in Montgomery’s way of life came without any major disturbances.”

In 1957, Dr. King became the leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and in 1958, he wrote a self-reflective book detailing the experience, and lessons learned, titled Stride Toward Freedom.  It’s a great book, I highly recommend it.  The protesters’ successful bus boycott gave the civil rights movement one of its first very tangible victories, from which others followed, based on the non-violent techniques and ethics preached by King, following in Ghandi’s footsteps.

In 1964, the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers) nominated Dr. King for the Nobel Peace Prize.  When Gunnar Jahn made his presentation speech at the Swedish Academy, awarding to Dr. King the Nobel Peace Prize, it was the bus boycott that he described, in the context of the Ghandian methods of non-violent economic measures which Dr. King successfully employed there.  Dr. King was the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace prize, at age 35.

January 17, 2011 at 8:54 AM 1 comment

River Greenway Ribbon Cut in South Orange

I’m pleased to say this river greenway and bike path construction project for South Orange was delivered on time and on-budget. One year and one day from groundbreaking to ribbon cut.

Continue Reading August 5, 2010 at 10:48 AM Leave a comment

Lautenberg Introduces National Rail Freight Policy Bill

Anything we can do to get more goods moving more efficiently by rail, rather than diesel-fueled, polluting trucks, which cause so much wear and tear on our interstate highways and local roads, sounds terrific! Sen. Lautenberg is the chair of the Senate Commerce subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security, and he introduced a bill in Congress to do just that and more (reduce carbon dioxide emission by 40% by 2030) on Thursday, July 22. More insights in the full blog post.

Continue Reading July 25, 2010 at 3:19 PM Leave a comment

Tax Thoughts on Independence Day

On Independence Day, 2010, it’s appropriate to consider whether the local tax 2% “cap” law, about to be enacted in New Jersey, will free us from the tyranny of ever-increasing local taxes, whether there were any good alternatives, and whether it will work.

Continue Reading July 4, 2010 at 9:33 PM Leave a comment

BP’s Oil Spill Damages: What Exxon Valdez Wrought

No one knows what the final amount of damages, fines and penalties might be for the BP oil spill—too many unknowns—but some commentators are tossing around $40 billion, all told. That’s a lot of money, even for BP. Some are asking, “Does it have the assets to survive?” Lawsuits are already being filed, and Attorney General Eric Holder has announced a criminal investigation.

Continue Reading June 12, 2010 at 5:00 PM Leave a comment

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